Forced Marriages in Karamoja driving teenage girls into suicide

 

“Three days ago a 15 year old girl hanged herself in Kalapata sub-county Kabong district. Three weeks ago, another girl who used to help us with chores at home hanged herself. Last month four girls committed suicide in Kapedo sub-county, reports Awuma Josephine.”
In Karamoja there is a surge of young girls committing suicide to escape being forced into marriage by their parents. Most die from either hanging or falling off rocks which are dotted all over the countryside.
“Girls want a better life than that lived by their parents. They want to complete school and get a job. Unfortunately the strongly patriarchal society in Karamoja leaves girls vulnerable with little voice in the community,” says Josephine a member of AWARE Uganda a Community Based Organization in Kabong district that has been mentored by UWONET to coordinate the GBV alliance in the district.
In 2010, Uganda Women’s Network set out to build local groups of activists in different districts and to identify grassroots organizations that would champion activism against GBV. One such group is the Kabong Coalition on GBV which currently has 14 members. It was formed among others to avoid victimization of individuals who take up issues of GBV in the community and to ensure continuity of the work once the programme closes.
“We wanted to bring together different partners from Local Government, Civil Society and the police to address GBV in the district. We saw that as a coalition, the different groups have a bigger voice and influence compared to individuals.”
This strategy has paid off. Since its formation, the alliance has carried out several joint activities to sensitize community members about GBV. Last year, the alliance conducted 3 community dialogues in Loyoro, Kapedo and Kabong West sub-counties with support from OXFAM. In each of the sub-counties, 4 change agents were selected through the local leaders to act as role models in the communities and act as contact persons between the alliance and the community.
The Chief Liaison Officer Kabong District, Calisto Nasur says that the alliance is working closely with the police and this has made their work of apprehending perpetrators a lot easier. “Before the alliance came into existence, there was no police post in Loyoro yet it had very high incidences of forced marriages. With support from the alliance, I developed a work plan and budget for a new police post in Loyoro sub-county which I submitted to Headquarters and it was approved. The situation now is much better.”
The alliance also partnered with a drama group called Rafiki theatre which uses participatory theatre plays to sensitize people about issues such as GBV, HIV/AIDS, land grabbing and rape.
Atyang Chelina one of the performers in Rafiki theatre says that she enjoys the roles she plays in the skits. “I want people to change their behavior. Rape should stop! Parents need to talk to their children instead of forcing them into marriage and couples should go for HIV testing and counseling.”
“UWONET has alerted the community and they are now aware of their rights. The change agents have been very effective on the ground and theatre has also played a key role in passing on the message. UWONET helped us build a very strong team by collecting different ideas and using different strategies to tackle GBV,” says Lowumo Grace the Executive Director AWARE Uganda.
“There are things that used to happen in the past that the elders thought were good but now they are bad and as an alliance, we have to continue fighting them. If boys go to school, girls should also go. Above all defilement and forced marriage are unacceptable before the law,” says Rita Aciro the Executive Director UWONET.
Written by Alfred Rwamirego – Programme Assistant Communication and Advocacy

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